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Siebert, Muriel

Siebert, Muriel

(1932-)
Muriel Siebert & Company

Overview

Muriel "Mickie" Siebert has been called many things in her time, but "The First Woman of Finance" may be the most appropriate. She was the first woman to own a seat on the New York Stock Exchange and the first to head one of its member firms. Siebert is the founder and president of a national discount brokerage firm, Muriel Siebert & Company, Inc. The New York City–based firm has offices in Florida, New Jersey, Texas, Michigan, Washington, and California. Siebert continues to oversee the firm's day–to–day operations. As someone who always follows her gut instincts, Siebert built up her company by offering discounted services to customers—a controversial move on her part, but it made her a multimillionaire. Between 1977 and 1982 she served as the Superintendent of Banks of New York. Known for her flamboyance and outspoken manner, Siebert stands as a symbol for women who aspire to careers in the financial industry or who would like to run their own business.

Personal Life

Siebert lives in Manhattan, New York with her pet, a long–haired chihuahua named Monster Girl. She never married, as she believed that remaining single would advance her career. She has never regretted the decision.

Muriel Siebert was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1932 to Irwin J. Siebert, a dentist, and Margaret Eunice (Roseman) Siebert, a homemaker. She attended Western Reserve University (now Case Western Reserve University) from 1949 to 1952 but she did not graduate, dropping out when her father was diagnosed with cancer.

She moved from Ohio to New York City in 1954 to look for a job. Immediately after relocating, Siebert faced obstacles. She applied for a job with the United Nations but was turned down because she could not speak two languages. Then, because she had an interest in business and the stock market she tried to land a position as a security analyst with a brokerage firm, but was turned down because she didn't have a college degree. Determined to become a financial analyst, however, Siebert lied about having a degree during an interview with Bache & Company. The deception worked, and Siebert launched what would become a phenomenal career in the investment industry, eventually becoming the first woman to hold a seat on the New York Stock Exchange.

As indefatigable as she is successful, Siebert has been involved in many activities and organizations outside of her business. From 1981 to 1984 she served on the Advisory Committee of the Financial Accounting Standards Board. While she was Superintendent of Banks she was also a director of the Urban Development Corporation, the New York Job Development Authority, and the State of New York Mortgage Agency.

Siebert is a founding member of the Women's Forum, an organization of 250 pre–eminent women in the New York area. She is also a trustee of the Citizens Budget Committee and Long Island University, and serves on the Business Committee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the New York State Business Council. She is a member of the Board of the National Council of World Affairs Organization–Long Island Chapter and of the Board of Trustees for the Guild Hall Museum, and is a founder and board member of The WISH List (Women in the Senate and House). Other organizations she has been involved with include the Tokyo Advisory Committee of the Sister City Program of New York City, the Alliance of American & Russian Women, New York City's Minority & Women–Owned Business Enterprise Advisory Board, the Board of the National Association of Securities Professionals, and the Board of Overseers of New York University's Business School. Siebert is also a trustee of Manhattan College and a former director of the United Way of NYC.

The list goes on. Her other memberships include the Financial Women's Association, the Women's Economic Round Table Advisory Council, the National Association of Women Business Owners, and the Ms. America Organization Advisory Council. She is a corporate affiliate of the National Association of State Treasurers, a member of the Twentieth Century Fund's Task Force on Market Speculation and Corporate Governance, and a member of the YWCA's Academy of Women Achievers, The Women's Campaign Fund, The Fashion Group International, and The Capitol Hill Club.

Career Details

Muriel Siebert advanced her career by making decisions that were bold, even risky. Her initial relocation to New York in search of a career was in itself, a daring move. She arrived in 1954 with only $500 to her name. Lacking a college degree, her chances of finding employment seemed, at best, questionable. However, through pluck and determination, Siebert broke into the brokerage world where her intelligence and intuition proved to be her biggest assets. She landed her first job with Bache & Company where she worked from 1954 to 1957 as a security analyst, studying companies that other analysts weren't interested in, including airlines, radio and television stations, and motion picture studios. From there, she assumed a succession of positions with various brokerage firms. In 1958 she moved to Utilities Management Corporation and soon after joined Shields & Company. In 1961 she moved on to Stearns & Company, where she was made a partner. Then, from 1962 to 1965 she worked for Finkle & Company, and then for Brimberg & Company until 1967. Later, she admitted that the reason she job–jumped so frequently was because she inevitably discovered that her male associates were earning more money than she did. She had good reason to chafe at the inequity as she proved herself to be a shrewd selector of stocks.

By 1967, confident in her capabilities, Siebert decided to go into business for herself and formed Muriel Siebert & Company. That same year, she made a move that set a historic precedent—she became the first woman ever to become a member of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). However, despite her successful work history and the substantial amount of money that she made for her various employers, Siebert was generally ridiculed when she tried to break into the NYSE. In fact, she was turned down by nine of the first 10 men she had asked to sponsor her application. Moreover, the Exchange put her in a "Catch–22" situation. Before it would consider her for membership, the Exchange told Siebert that she would have to get a letter from a bank stating that it would lend her $300,000 of the $445,000 price of a seat. But no bank would consider lending her the money until the Exchange would agree to admit her. Undaunted by the dilemma, she persevered. It took her several months, but Siebert was finally elected to membership on December 28, 1967. For 10 years she was the only woman among the 1,366 NYSE members.

In 1975 Siebert made another bold move when strict regulations that governed the financial industry were loosened. Specifically, a federal law abolished fixed commissions for brokers. She reacted to this price deregulation by announcing that her company would become a discount commission house. Response was both immediate and negative. On Wall Street, discounts were acceptable only for corporate customers. As a result, Siebert was dropped by the clearinghouse that cleared her transactions and her company faced expulsion by the Securities Exchange Commission if she could not find another house in 60 days. Resilient as ever, Siebert managed to find another clearing house right before the deadline and she achieved outstanding success as a discount broker.

As her business was reaching new levels of success, Siebert stepped down from the leadership role in her company to become the Superintendent of Banks for New York State in 1977. The position entailed an enormous amount of responsibility as Siebert would oversee more than 500 banking institutions and manage more than $100 billion in statewide trust accounts. To add to the challenge, Siebert came into the position at a time when the industry was undergoing a great deal of turmoil. Interest rates were climbing steeply, thrift institutions were failing, and an influx of foreign banks was crippling a major municipal credit union. Siebert, however, proved to be a creative administrator adept at solving a host of major problems. Her four years in office earned her praise from the banking establishment though her decisions, as always, generated a great deal of controversy. To deal with the failing credit union, for example, she used state funds to take it over and keep it solvent. She also lobbied state legislators on the behalf of banks, staving off a threatened mass relocation to protest New York's tax rates and usury laws. Additionally she forced some banks to merge and persuaded stronger institutions to help weaker ones.

Siebert resigned as Superintendent of Banks in 1982 to run for the United States Senate on the Republican ticket. She failed to be elected in her first and only campaign for political office, however, so she returned to Muriel Siebert & Company. During her absence, the firm had fallen into disarray and Siebert essentially had to rebuild it from the ground up. When Siebert had become the Superintendent of Banks, she had placed her company in a blind trust to be run by her employees. She later admitted that this was a bad move. The employees that she had left in charge hadn't been aggressive enough. Other employees resigned, taking customer lists with them. One former employee even left and started a competing discount brokerage firm. By the time Siebert reassumed the helm, she discovered that new companies that were established during her absence were doing much better than hers. During her first year back, she turned down buyout offers as well as a Wall Street job offer that would have netted her a $1 million annual salary because she was more interested in the challenge of turning her business around. With its founder back in control, Muriel Siebert & Company began flourishing again. By 1985 it was pulling in over $3 million per year in net commissions.

Chronology: Muriel Siebert

1932: Born.

1949: Entered Western Reserve University.

1952: Dropped out of Western Reserve.

1954: Moved to New York City.

1961: Became a partner with Stearns & Company.

1967: Became first woman to join the New York Stock Exchange.

1967: Established Muriel Siebert & Company.

1977: Appointed Superintendent of Banks of New York.

1982: Ran for United States Senate.

1990: Established Siebert Entrepreneurial Philanthropic Plan.

1996: Muriel Siebert & Company went public.

Siebert continued to steer her company with business acumen, determination, and foresight. In 1996 Muriel Siebert & Co. went public as a means to raise capital for a shift in strategy to accommodate Internet trading. By 1999 her firm was rated as one of the nation's leading discount brokerages.

Social and Economic Impact

Muriel Siebert has said that she feels that her greatest accomplishment was becoming the first woman member of the New York Stock Exchange. This was a remarkable feat indeed, especially considering the context of the times, yet it shouldn't overshadow her many other accomplishments. She launched a hugely successful business in a traditionally male–dominated sector in one of the most demanding cities in the world. For that she has become a role model for women, young and old. Nor should anyone underestimate her accomplishments as the Superintendents of Banks. She accepted her appointment to that position from then–Governor Hugh Carey knowing full well that steadily rising interest rates were jeopardizing the banks in her charge. Yet during her tenure she managed to prevent any bank failures in New York. She also restored fiscal order to the Municipal Credit Union, which serves New York City employees.

Siebert is also very much a philanthropist. In 1990 she established the Siebert Entrepreneurial Philanthropic Plan (SEPP), through which she donates to charity half of her company's net profits from new securities underwriting. In its first year SEPP donated a total of $310,000. Donations over the years have climbed over the $4 million mark.

With her success came a great many awards and honors. In 1993 Siebert received an award from the State Employees Federated Appeal for being the highest individual contributor through her SEPP program. The SEPP program also garnered her the Financial Women's Association's "Community Service Award" that same year. Also in 1993 she received the Greater New York Councils Boy Scouts of America's First Annual "Women of Achievement" award, and New York City Mayor David Dinkens presented her with the "Lifetime Achievement Award" to help celebrate Women's History Month.

Other honors include: the NYU's Stern School of Business Stovall Fellow, as the first woman fellow, in 1992; the White House Conference on Small Business Award for Entrepreneurial Excellence, given to her by President Reagan in August 1986; the first national Emily Warren Roebling Award from the National Women's Hall of Fame, in 1984; the Equal Opportunity Award of the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund, in 1981; the "Outstanding Contributions to Equal Opportunity for Women" Award of the Business Council for the United National Decade for Women, in 1979; and the Women's Equity Action League Achievement Award, in 1978.

Sources of Information

Contact at: Muriel Siebert & Company
435 East 52nd St.
New York, NY 10022–4834

Bibliography

"Muriel Siebert." Ellis Island Medals of Honor." 1996. Available at http://www.neco.org.

"Muriel Siebert." Michigan: Northwood University Distinguished Women's Awards, 1989. Available at http://www.northwood.edu.

"Muriel Siebert." New York: Women's Financial Network at Siebert, 2000. Available at http://www.wfn.com.

"Muriel Siebert." Utah: FS Capital Markets Group, Inc., 2001. Available at http://www.ipo-merge.com.

Schoenberger, Robert. "Finance World Not Just for Men." The Clarion–Ledger, 6 September 2001.

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